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"Discovering Hands", how blind women are revolutionizing breast cancer screening

Shared by Gemma Tria on 2023-05-09 18:00

About the solution

It was during the early 2000s when gynecologist Dr. Frank Hoffmann recognized the potential of blind and visually impaired women in detecting small and elusive breast tumors through touch. This realization eventually led to the development of the Medical Tactile Examiners program. MTEs are trained professionals who use their sense of touch to perform breast examinations, searching for lumps or other abnormalities that may be indicative of breast cancer. MTEs know how to explore the texture, size, shape and consistency of breast tissue, as well as to detect subtle changes that may indicate the presence of a tumor.

Dr. Hoffmann was concerned about missing small breast lumps due to time constraints during exams. The reality is that many doctors are faced with time constraints that limit their capacity to conduct a 30-40 minute exploration. This led Hoffman to imagine that a trained technical professional with enhanced tactile sense could be ideal for the job.

In 2010, "Discovering Hands" was founded by Hoffman as a non-profit organization with the goal of training blind and visually impaired women to become certified MTEs. After undergoing a rigorous six-month training program, MTEs can identify abnormalities using only their sense of touch and work alongside gynecologists to detect breast cancer in its early stages. Their highly sensitive fingers can detect lumps as small as 6 to 8 mm, outperforming many sighted doctors who struggle to find lumps of 10 to 20 mm during their exams.

The project has gained recognition for its innovative approach to breast cancer detection since its inception. The method is simple and low-cost, and has the potential to revolutionize breast cancer screening in many countries. India is a prime example where breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women in most states, with 60% of cases diagnosed at stage 3 or 4 of the disease, resulting in reduced survival rates. In 2017, Discovering Hands expanded its program to India through the NAB India Center for Blind Women & Disability Studies, and to date, eighteen women have received training to become MTEs. This new method of cancer detection is expected to offer several advantages over existing techniques, particularly in underdeveloped countries where the cost and complexity of current methods make their implementation challenging.

The implementation of a specialized exam conducted by a paramedical team of visually-impaired women can significantly enhance preventive breast cancer diagnosis globally, while also challenging the perception that disability is a limitation rather than a talent. To date, Discovering Hands has trained 80 MTEs across six countries since its inception. Their goal is to train and certify 500 MTEs worldwide by 2030.

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About the author

Frank Hoffmann is a German gynecologist who is known for founding the organization "Discovering Hands".

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